Sitadevi’s Sutra

By Emily Miranker, Team Administrator/Project Coordinator

In 1934, Sitadevi Yogendra (1912–2008) published Yoga: Physical Education for Women, the first book on yoga for women by a woman.1 Married at age 15 to Shri Yogendraji, founder of The Yoga Institute in Mumbai, they became what Sitadevi described as “the first yogi couple.”2 Her book enjoyed three editions in less than 10 years and has been translated into several languages. It leads the reader through a course of exercises and postures specially geared towards women, recognizing that the prevailing techniques of the teachers of her day were “based upon the physiopsychic needs of Man.”3

First up in the routine are the corrective prayer poses. These instill proper posture in the body, something difficult to maintain under the “imposition of unnatural living under modern conditions”4— and this was before we slouched at computers all day and cramped our fingers with constant texting.

Figures 2 and 3 in, Yogendra, Yoga: Physical Education for Women,” 1947.

Figures 2 and 3 in Yogendra, Yoga: Physical Education for Women, 1947.

With your posture thus improved, the next poses maintain or even increase your height. The common triangle pose (trikonasana) is among those recommended. It’s a spine-stretching equilateral triangle shape in contrast to the flashier right-triangle that frequently adorns today’s Western fitness magazine covers.

Figure 7 in in Yogendra, Yoga: Physical Education for Women, 1947.

Figure 7 in in Yogendra, Yoga: Physical Education for Women, 1947.

Right triangle pose. Accessed April 28, 2016.

Right triangle pose. Accessed April 28, 2016.

Sitadevi details exercises for the trunk to develop core strength and tone, and poses to keep the sex organs healthy. She considered it the “duty of every woman to safeguard her health”5 as the bearers of children. She concludes with poses for the spine, which she found good for the nervous system and mental equity (samatvam).

She provides a table of the entire sequence, which should take just 30 minute to run through. “When practiced with precision and regularity, the hygienic results of these exercises are sure to become manifest in a few months. This, in turn, would inspire the essential faith and enthusiasm for their continued practice throughout the lifetime.”6

Guidetable for a yoga sequence in Yogendra, Yoga: Physical Education for Women, 1947.

Guidetable for a yoga sequence in Yogendra, Yoga: Physical Education for Women, 1947.

Sitadevi’s book, along with other publications of The Yoga Institute, were microfilmed and included in the Crypt of Civilization,7 which isn’t a videogame but rather a time capsule housed at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA. Consider coming by our library to read up on Sitadevi and master her healthful poses to cultivate longevity so you’ll be around for the Crypt’s opening … in May of 8113.


1. “Mother Sita Devi Yogendra: A Brief Profile.” The Yoga Institute (May 29, 2013). Accessed May 3, 2016.

2. Mohanty, Sweta. “Fit to Lead.” DNA India (May 2007).Accessed April 28, 2016.

3. Yogendra, Sitadevi. Yoga: Physical Education for Women. Bombay: The Yoga Institute, 1947: 11.

4. Yogendra, Sitadevi. Yoga: Physical Education for Women. Bombay: The Yoga Institute, 1947: 27.

5. Yogendra, Sitadevi. Yoga: Physical Education for Women. Bombay: The Yoga Institute, 1947: 29.

6. Yogendra, Sitadevi. Yoga: Physical Education for Women. Bombay: The Yoga Institute, 1947: 127.

7. “Crypt of Civilization,” Oglethorpe University. Accessed April 28, 2016.

Reasons to Ride Like Lady Mary

By Anne Garner, Curator, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

In the first episode of the final season of Downton Abbey, Lady Mary Crawley tells her father that riding astride a horse is safer than riding side-saddle. Safer, natch. Could it also be healthier?

Lady Mary Crawley riding astride.

Lady Mary Crawley riding astride.

An article in a 1911 issue of The Journal of Scientific Training suggests it just might be. In “Riding, Cross-Seat and Side-Seat Compared,” B. Stedman says that riding astride requires significantly greater muscular engagement than riding side-saddle.1 The 19th-century New York physician Ghislani Durant suggests that this greater muscular engagement has a number of positive health outcomes.

Cover detail of Durant's Horse Back Riding from a Medical Point of View, 1878.

Cover detail of Durant’s Horse Back Riding from a Medical Point of View, 1878.

In his book, Horse Back Riding from a Medical Point of View, Durant writes that chief among the benefits of riding is its capacity to strengthen muscles. By bringing the greatest number of muscles into use, riding also improves and facilitates blood circulation.2 Another American source, Dr. Pancoast’s Ladies’ New Medical Guide, concurs. The guide links the increased muscle use of “sanitary and recreative riding” to strength and more efficient circulation.3

The cover of Pancoast's The Ladies' New Medical Guide, 1890.

The cover of Pancoast’s The Ladies’ New Medical Guide, 1890.

Whether sidesaddle or astride, Durant believed that the overall benefits of horseback riding were numerous.

Durant writes that practice of riding aids digestion and “makes the bits go down”:

Each shock from the horse shakes them and makes them to roll as it were upon each other, and causes the changes in the relations of the convolutions of the intestines. These shocks and knocks and rubbings act as a mechanical excitant upon the muscular fibre…there results from it a more intimate mixture of the juices and aliments in the stomach, a more perfect chymification of the food, and a more prompt and complete absorption of matters already digested…4

Durant also asserts that different gaits—walking, trotting, galloping—produce different physiological results. In his section on “Secretions,” for example, Durant notes that trotting is more likely to produce sweat than any other gait.5

Horseback rider on the cover of Elements of Hygiene, circa 1921.

Horseback rider on the cover of Elements of Hygiene, circa 1921.

There’s also hope for hypochondriacs (here, described as usually male) and hysterics (usually female). The hypochondriac is urged to ride “an easy-gaited animal” first thing in the morning at a canter, with the caution that the patient stop before the point of fatigue. The result: the hypochondriac gains confidence in his strength, improves digestion and reduces flatulence, here identified as a frequent accompaniment to the disease.6 For the hysteric, writes Durant, the regime of outdoor exercise offers a valuable distraction from the “affections and passions, more intense and less restrained than in man.”7

If you suffer from another affliction not yet described, take heart! Durant argues for horseback riding as a treatment for many other maladies—including anemia, syphilis, and St. Vitus’ Dance.

Durant wasn’t the only New York physician in the late-19th century to champion the curative properties of riding. The prominent New York physician Frank Hastings Hamilton read a paper here at the Academy in 1880, arguing for horseback riding as a remedy for chronic cystitis and for other chronic inflammations.

Though many of his case studies use men, he also argues the pastime has rewards for women. Hamilton suggested that the saddle might lift a chronically inflamed, congested, and “falling uterus” (though presumably not a side-saddle, another win for Lady Mary’s argument against this practice).8


1. Stedman, B. “Riding, Cross-Seat and Side-Seat Compared.” The Journal of Scientific Training. Volume 4 (1911): pp.21-22. Accessed online January 6, 2016 at

2. Durant, Ghislani. Horseback Riding from a Medical Point of View. New York: Cassell, 1878.

3. Pancoast, Seth. The Ladies’ New Medical Guide. Philadelphia: n.p. [1890].

4. Durant, pp. 54-55.

5. Durant, p. 63.

6. Durant, p. 86-87.

7. Durant, p. 89. Interestingly, the final section of Durant’s work offers—groan—a horse of another color?  Beginning with the mythological Dactyli of Greek legend, Durant offers a detailed literary account of horse and chariot-racing, spanning the classical era through Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Perhaps horse riding paid a key role in whipping the young Herakles into shape for all those labors.

8. Hamilton, Frank H. “The Horse and Saddle. A ‘New Remedy’ for Chronic Cystitis, and for other Chronic Inflammations.” Read before the New York Academy of Medicine, May 20, 1880.

Swimming from 1818 to 1918

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

Summertime is swimming time! Two books from our collection, published exactly 100 years apart, offer beach tips (some of which have aged better than others).

Title page, J. Frost, The Art of Swimming, 1818.

Title page, J. Frost, The Art of Swimming, 1818.

In The Art of Swimming (1818), J. Frost encouraged parents to teach their sons to swim:

“Some parents may object to their children being taught the art of swimming, from an apprehension that they would be more exposed to danger, on account of its inducing them more frequently to bathe: to them I would reply, that bathing produces very salutary effects, and expert swimmers are seldom in danger in the water; while, to those who are ignorant of the art, bathing is really dangerous.”1

Frost was ahead of his time. In the 19th century, New York and many other U.S. cities fined people for public swimming (no day swimming in the East River! It’s “‘extremely offensive to spectators.’”). As is evident from the male-oriented focus of Frost’s book, swimming only became acceptable for women with the availability of gender-segregated facilities. It was not until the mid-1800s—the age of a growing fitness movement—that upper and middle class Americans turned to swimming as recreation at seaside destinations and private fitness clubs. Public pools opened around the same time, but with a hygienic mission rather than a recreational one.2

In a footnote, Frost explains why learning to swim was so important:

“The writer, when young, had the happiness to rescue his brother from a watery grave; and he has lately had the pleasure to hear, that two of his pupils were the means of saving a person from drowning; and still more recently, that one of his pupils was preserved by swimming, when accidentally thrown from a ferry on the river Trent, though encumbered with his clothes.”1

In addition to 49 pages of swimming instructions, followed by the text of a swimming-related letter written by Benjamin Franklin, the book includes “twelve copper plate engravings comprising twenty-six appropriate figures, correctly exhibiting and elucidating the action and attitude, in every branch of that invaluable art.”1

Click on an image below to view a selection of these plates:


Cover of Dalton, Swimming Scientifically Taught, 1918.

Cover of Dalton, Swimming Scientifically Taught, 1918.

By 1918, when Frank Eugen Dalton published Swimming Scientifically Taught, America was on the cusp of a golden age of swimming. From 1920–1940, pools opened in more than 1,000 cities across the country as centers for recreation for men and women of all classes.2

Yet public pools were not Dalton’s focus, at least not in his introduction. He paints this evocative picture:

“When slaves of the desk and the counting-house are looking forward for an all too brief vacation and seek the mountains or seashore to store up energy for another year’s work, they should know how to swim. Poor indeed is the region which can not boast of a piece of water in which to take an invigorating plunge.”3

Dalton’s enthusiasm for swimming was limitless: “Most other forms of exercise, after they have been participated in for some time, are apt to become something like efforts, or even hardships. Swimming, on the other hand, continues to be exhilarating.”3

Dives. In Dalton, Swimming Scientifically Taught, 1918, pp. 98-99.

Dives. In Dalton, Swimming Scientifically Taught, 1918, pp. 98-99.

Dalton believed that all but the most nervous person could “become a very fair swimmer” by reading his book.3 In addition to teaching basics, like the back stroke, breast stroke, and side stroke, the book also covers more advanced ground. Dalton shows a number of dives, a maneuver called “The Monte Cristo Sack Trick,” and includes instructions for learning to swim while clothed (“Practice first with a coat, then with a coat and waistcoat; next add trousers, and last the shoes and stockings”) and with hands and feet tied (a trick for advanced performers).3

The Monte Cristo Sack Trick. Dalton, Swimming Scientifically Taught, 1918, p. 142.

The Monte Cristo Sack Trick. Dalton, Swimming Scientifically Taught, 1918, p. 142.

The final chapters focus on emergency response. Dalton describes two forms of resuscitation, Hall’s and Sylvester’s.3 Hall’s originated in 1856 as a method that did not require artificial respiration.4 Sylvester’s similar procedure followed two years later.5 Neither were very effective. It wasn’t until 1958 that mouth-to-mouth ventilation—a practice recommended by some medical societies as early as the 1770s—regained acceptance.4 Two years later, the American Heart Association developed CPR.6

Rule 1 of the Sylvester technique. Dalton, Swimming Scientifically Taught, 1918, p. 191.

Rule 1 of the Sylvester technique. Dalton, Swimming Scientifically Taught, 1918, p. 191.

Whether you prefer Frost’s or Dalton’s instructions, swim safely this summer.


1. Frost J. The art of swimming: A series of practical instructions, on an original and progressive plan…to which is added, Dr. Franklin’s treatise, also some anecdotes respecting swimming. New York: P.W. Gallaudet; 1818.

2. Wiltse J. Contested waters: A social history of swimming pools in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press; 2007.

3. Dalton FE, Dalton LC. Swimming scientifically taught: A practical manual for young and old. Fifth ed. New York; London: Funk Wagnalls Co.; 1918.

4. Fahey DG. The self-inflating resuscitator—evolution of an idea. Anaesth Intensive Care. 2010;38 Suppl 1: 10–5.

5. Liss HP. A history of resuscitation. Ann Emerg Med. 1986;15(1): 65–72. doi: 10.1016/S0196-0644(86)80490-5.

6. American Heart Association. History of CPR. Available at: Accessed June 24, 2015.

The Origins of “Sweat”

Guest blogger Bill Hayes, author of The Anatomist and the forthcoming Sweat: A History of Exercise, will present our 2014 Friends of the Rare Book Room Lecture, “Writing the Body,” on April 23 at 6pm. Register here.

Most of my writing has dealt in one way or the other with medical history and the human body. I don’t exactly know why or how to explain this. I don’t come from a family of doctors or scientists, for instance. But from an early age, I had a keen interest in the body. This has not changed. Sometimes I think I’m still in that stage you see babies in where they are endlessly fascinated with their own limbs. I am over 50 now, so I don’t see myself growing out of it. I look at the human body as an amazing machine and try to figure out how things work.

From the book Medico-Mechanical Gymnastics by Gustaf Zander, 1892

From the book Medico-Mechanical Gymnastics by Gustaf Zander, 1892

If I had excelled in the sciences in school, I might have gone on to become a doctor. But frankly, I didn’t even do well—I barely passed high school biology—whereas writing came easily. I followed that path instead. My interest in the body has led me to write about the science of sleep (my first book, Sleep Demons); the history of human blood (Five Quarts); and, in my last book, The Anatomist, the story behind the classic 19th-century anatomy text Gray’s Anatomy. For this, I spent a year studying anatomy alongside first-year medical students. I went from never having seen a cadaver to doing full cadaver dissection, trying to get a feel for what the original Henry Gray had done.

After finishing the book, I had time on my hands and spent hours working out at a gym. I began running again; I went to yoga classes; I swam. I got into the best shape I’d ever been in. Exercise and I had had a long history by this point, yet the notion that exercise itself might have a history—that there could be such a thing—never occurred to me until one afternoon at the gym.

I don’t recall the exact date but do know it was a cardio day, a cardiovascular workout, about six years ago. At the gym, I tend to go old school; the original StairMaster has long been my cardio machine of choice, both because it makes you sweat like nothing else and it gives you a certain psychological lift. Standing atop a StairMaster, one is a good four feet taller, allowing the illusion that you are Lord and Master of the Gym—like Sigourney Weaver when she mans the robotic killing machine in the second Aliens. You feel like you could conquer anything.

Santorius weighing himself for a metabolism experiment after eating a meal. From Medicina statica: being the aphorisms of Sanctorius, 1720. Click to enlarge.

I climbed up and punched in my usual program—Fat Burner, Level 15, 25 minutes. I arranged my towel and bottle of water, and thumbed in my iPod earphones. My finger found the machine’s START button, that small green circle, so powerfully endowed; each time you press it is a chance to wipe the slate clean and absolve yourself of somatic sins. Yet for some reason, I hesitated a moment on this particular day. I took in the scene before me—men and women of all ages and races, lifting weights, back-bending over giant rubber balls, fitting themselves into torturous-looking apparatuses, pulling themselves up on chin-up bars, dutifully doing sit-ups—and a thought popped into in my head: How did we all end up here? If one were to trace a line backward in time, where would one land?

I stood there and thought about this for a long while then pressed clear, took up my towel and water and climbed back down. What I did next was pure reflex: I went to the library. Little did I know at the time: the journey to write my next book, a history of exercise titled Sweat, had started.